Reality TV meets nature in O'Brien State Park's Race

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2012 - 6:59 PM

An event based on 'The Amazing Race' combines activity with lessons about nature at William O'Brien State Park.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, individuals and teams of two or more will set off on a race through William O'Brien State Park, solving puzzles and completing activities on their way to the pit stop.

The Riverside Amphitheater 12 miles north of Stillwater serves as the starting point for "The Amazing Park Race," a takeoff on the Emmy Award-winning CBS-TV show in which contestants compete to win $1 million.

"Instead of traveling all around the world, they get to explore the park," said park intern and program coordinator Ellen Monson.

A naturalist will give instructions before teams set off to tackle nature- and outdoor-themed "Detours" and "Road Blocks" on their way to the finish line, where the fastest will get prize baskets and trophies. But unlike the popular reality show, nobody will hear the dreaded words, "I'm sorry, but you have been eliminated from the race."

"We don't have any elimination or anything to prevent people from finishing the course," Monson said. "We have ribbons for everybody who finishes."

While this year's tasks are being kept secret, last year the 70 people of all ages -- families with infants, teenagers and single adults -- who took part in the inaugural "The Amazing Park Race" had to learn how to identify trees and catch, identify and take a fish off a hook properly.

At the geocaching "Detour," teams had to choose one of two courses and use a Global Positioning System to find treasures along the way and complete assigned tasks.

Of course, time is of the essence since the quicker teams complete tasks the quicker they can move on to the next one, but Monson said she hopes participants learn valuable lessons along the way. Naturalists will be stationed at each station.

A way to see the park

"When they are here, I want them to take in the park and not just see that that is a trail and there is a beach," Monson said.

"We instill a little lesson at each station," she said. "Take geocaching. Yes, we give instruction so they can do the Amazing Race. But when they learn, they can then go to other parks and locations and do it there. They have learned how to do it. Or they can see that fishing is fun and that you can catch all these fish."

The 1,500-acre park is a popular place for bird watching, picnics, camping, cross-country skiing, canoeing and fishing. Stations will be set up throughout the park; racers will have up to three hours to make their way to the finish line.

Racers won't have to do research before the event, but they will have strategies to figure out. And just like on the TV show, if they get stumped, there is no phoning a friend.

"We don't get cell phone service here anyway," Monson said.

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib

  • THE AMAZING PARK RACE

    What: A nature-themed version of the reality TV show "The Amazing Race"

    Who: Individuals and teams of all ages

    When: 1 p.m. Saturday

    Where: William O'Brien State Park, on Hwy. 95 near Marine on St. Croix

    Learn more: 651-433-0500; registration requested but not required

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